“In some parts of Breadalbane it was formerly the custom on New Year’s Day to take a dog to the door, give him a bit of bread, and drive him out saying, ‘Get away, you dog! Whatever death of men or loss of cattle would happen in this house to the end of the present year, may it all light on your head!’ On the Day of Atonement, which was the tenth day of the seventh month, the Jewish high-priest laid both his hands on the head of a live goat, confessed over it all the iniquities of the Children of Israel, and, having thereby transferred the sins of the people to the beast, sent it away into the wilderness.”
So, on this first day, we should send our own “dogs,”–our worries, sins, fears–into the wild and attempt to look on the new year with new eyes and, maybe, new hearts.
An Irish toast puts it another way: May you never forget what’s worth remembering, and never remember what’s best forgotten.
Frazer’s work in comparative mythology and religion influenced Freud, Joseph Campbell, Eliot, Pound, and many, many others. I have never attempted to read the work as a whole, but The Golden Bough is a great reference work. Often, I find myself skimming the index and reading passages on subjects like “throwing death into the water” and “seven-headed, external soul of a witch in a snake.” Until recently, I didn’t know that the version I had was an abridgement that Frazer edited in 1922. I may actually read more of it if I find the individual volumes. I guess they’ve made it to my infinite reading list.
Along with mentions of Eliot, Apocalypse Now features at least one overt reference to Frazer. Among Kurtz’s books in the film lay The Golden Bough.
And even though I don’t believe this song was used in the film, Jim Morrison used some of Frazer’s words from The Golden Bough as inspiration for “Not to Touch the Earth.” Once you’ve seen the film, it’s difficult not to tie “The End” to the iconic images of that film.
And as usual, I can’t even follow my own rules. By attempting to not write about the end of the world I’ve now referenced Apocalypse Now and “The End.”
As Eliot wrote: “And the end and the beginning were always there/Before the beginning and after the end. / And all is always now.”
As one of the great 20th Century fools, in the sense of the great Shakespearean fools, put it: So it goes.
Happy 159th Birthday Sir James George Frazer!
May the road rise with you! Happy New Year!